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EU court opens new doors for online libel suits across bloc

A Czech pornography company can sue a Hungarian pornographer in France for damages caused by disparaging online remarks.

(CN) — In a ruling that expands the possibility for libel lawsuits to be filed across the European Union, the bloc's top court on Tuesday said a Czech pornography company can bring suit in France against a Hungarian filmmaker for defamation.

The European Court of Justice overturned French court rulings that barred Gtflix Tv, a Czech porn company, from suing the Hungarian porn maker for libel damages through the French courts. The Hungarian pornographer – identified in the ruling only as DR – allegedly insulted Gtflix on websites and online forums.

French district and appellate courts declared that France should not be the jurisdiction where this legal fight should take place just because Gtflix's porn films were available in France through the internet. Gtflix disagreed and took their case to France's high court, which turned to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg for a ruling on whether the case can be tried in France.

The Court of Justice ruled that individuals and businesses can sue for libel damages in EU states where they can claim disparaging remarks allegedly hurt them. The ruling was issued by the court's grand chamber, which is convened upon the request of EU member states and institutions or when complex, important and vexing judicial matters come before the court.

The dispute has not gained much attention outside legal circles but the ruling, legal experts said, is significant because it upholds the “'mosaic approach’ to jurisdiction” in the EU, as a legal adviser to the court said about this case in an opinion in September. The bloc's system of jurisprudence is an interweaving and balancing of domestic and EU laws.

Gtflix Tv accused DR of regularly making disparaging remarks online and formally asked him to retract those remarks. After DR refused to do that, Gtflix sued him in a regional court in Lyon, France.

In their suit, the Czech pornographers demanded DR stop insulting them and asked the Lyon court to force DR to publish a legal notice in French and English on the websites where he made the remarks and to allow Gtflix to post its own comments on forums managed by DR. The company also said it wanted DR to pay a symbolic two euros as compensation.

DR fought the libel suit and the Lyon court sided with him, finding that France had no jurisdiction in the matter.

In 2018, a court of appeal in Lyon also rejected Gtflix's case and said the suit belonged in the Czech courts. Determined to fight on, Gtflix went to France's high court, the Court of Cassation, and argued that it could sue in France because it had suffered damages there.

The Court of Cassation indicated that it believed France lacked jurisdiction to hear the request to remove DR's comments, but it asked the Court of Justice whether in this instance the defamatory remarks might fall foul of fair competition rules and therefore allow Gtflix to pursue its case for damages in France.

The Luxembourg court declared that EU laws allow for suits to be brought before courts both in “the place where the damage occurred and the place of the event giving rise to it” because each could be helpful “to the evidence and the conduct of the proceedings.”

It added, however, that the French courts must limit their examination to only the damage DR may have caused in France. It's for courts in the Czech Republic or Hungary, it found, to determine whether DR's allegedly offensive remarks should be removed.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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